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Report: State Regs Reduce Gas-Drilling Impacts

Study released by the University at Buffalo's shale gas institute concludes that state oversight of gas drilling has been effective at reducing environmental problems.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A study released Tuesday by the University at Buffalo's new shale gas institute concludes that state oversight of gas drilling has been effective at reducing environmental problems in Pennsylvania and will prevent major problems in New York if the state allows drilling to begin.

Environmentalists criticized the study as superficial and overly simplistic.

The university-funded report examined almost 3,000 violations from nearly 4,000 gas wells in Pennsylvania since 2008. It found that 62 percent of the violations were administrative and 38 percent were environmental. The environmental violations stemmed from 845 events -- 25 of them classified as "major," defined as site restoration failures, serious contamination of water supplies, major land spills, blowouts, and venting and gas migration.

The authors found the overall number of violations tripled from 99 in 2008 to 331 in the first eight months of 2011 as the number of wells drilled in each period rose from 170 to more than 1,200. But the percentage of environmental violations compared to the number of wells fell from 58.2 percent in 2008 to 30.5 percent in 2010.

"The data in this study demonstrates that the odds of non-major environmental events, and the much smaller odds of major environmental events, are being reduced even further by enhanced regulation and improved industry practice," lead author Timothy Considine said in a conference call with reporters.

"Hundreds of violations per year are not acceptable when it comes to protecting clean air and clean water for people who are forced to live with heavy industrial operations in their backyards," said Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

George Jugovic, president of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future and a former administrator at that state's Department of Environmental Protection, said other factors might account for a drop in the number of violations. For example, the current administration has made significant changes in how violations are recorded, he said.

New York Water Rangers released a statement saying the report fails to consider problems related to wastewater treatment and disposal, public health impacts, degraded air quality and industrialization of communities.

Shale gas drilling hasn't been allowed in New York since the Department of Environmental Conservation began a review in 2008 to address impacts from horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses millions of gallons of chemically treated water per well to crack shale and release gas.

The first study produced by the new Shale Resources and Society Institute at Buffalo was released on the same day as a broad coalition of health, environmental, and political groups were staging a rally and concert in Albany calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking.

All three of the report's lead authors have ties to the energy industry as well as being academicians, but institute Director John Martin said the study was funded entirely by the University at Buffalo with no industry support.

The new report says most of the major environmental impacts were "due to operator error, negligence, or a failure to follow proper procedures when drilling."

"This suggests that regulators are not only responding effectively within their states, but are learning and acting on the experiences of other states as well -- a positive sign for the continued successful state regulation of natural gas development through hydraulic fracturing," the authors conclude.

Environmental Impacts report

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